The Last of Us Part II Doesn’t Need the Return of Factions Multiplayer
As much as I loved The Last of Us Part II, more does not always equal better; even if it means separating from Factions.
I want to make this clear right off the bat: I really liked The Last of Us Part II. I recognize how divided a lot of fans are about it. Still, I think regardless of whether you liked the game or not, you’ll be able to agree with me when I say that I think the general idea for the upcoming “Factions” game mode completely undermines many of the points that Naughty Dog is trying to make in the story of The Last of Us Part II. To be clear, there is no official confirmation that the multiplayer component that’s been hinted at by Naughty Dog is going to be another Factions mode. Still, it’s pretty clear through those hints and references that Factions is what’s on the horizon next for The Last of Us.
[Spoiler Warning: Before we get started, just as a heads up, there will be major spoilers for The Last of Us Part II in this article, so please read at your own discretion.]
For those who don’t know, Factions is the multiplayer expansion for the original The Last of Us that saw players pick from one of two survivor groups, the Hunters or the Fireflies, to fight for supplies. Different game modes had different objectives, but at the end of the day, each mode ultimately ended up being about killing people on the other team while completing objectives.
From my perspective, The Last of Us Part II makes a lot of statements about love, forgiveness, the cycle of violence, and most importantly, the destructive nature of tribalism and the “us vs. them” mentality. Unless Naughty Dog is planning on sending a message about the horrors of those mentalities in a mode literally titled “Factions,” I think they’re missing the point of their entire game.
The point is: as a developer, you cannot enforce those types of themes and have them hit as hard as they do while also having a mode in the game that rewards you for getting sick headshots on the people of the opposing side. To me, you cannot condemn tribalism in one part of your game while also glorifying it in another; a mode like that dilutes everything that Naughty Dog is trying to say in The Last of Us Part II.
Throughout The Last of Us Part II, Ellie kills so many people in the name of getting revenge and, initially, I was kind of on board with her; I was mad at Abby and her crew of Wolves for killing Joel. But as the game goes on, it’s clear that Ellie maybe isn’t doing all this to avenge Joel, but because of her guilt and regret with the way she wasted her final years with him. All the shooting, stabbing, and dismemberment is essentially for nothing and results from the way Ellie was brought up. She doesn’t know how to cope with her grief, so she resorts to burying it and replacing it with the straightforward idea that “they killed one of mine, I’m going to kill all of theirs.”
By the end of The Last of Us Part II, Naughty Dog shows their stance on this kind of destructive thinking by having Ellie lose just about everything she cares for. Her friend Jesse is killed, Tommy becomes the shell of what he once was, her girlfriend Dina leaves her with their son, and she loses some of her fingers, which robs her of the only connection she has left with Joel: music. With these horrible things happening to a character who chooses tribalism over forgiveness, it’s pretty clear that Naughty Dog is trying to say, “Hey, this is bad.”
Alternatively, Abby starts the game as a soldier for the Washington Liberation Front. Still, she comes to realize that the war they’re fighting with an opposing faction and religious group, the Seraphites, is senseless. She learns this because two Seraphite children save her life, breaking down those ideas of tribalism she had previously been subscribed to. It took a single act of kindness for her to start challenging the “othering” mentality that’s been ingrained in her by years of violence and war.
After this moment, she starts taking care of the two children, Yara and Lev, and vows to escape Seattle with them. Towards the end of the game, Abby has the opportunity to kill Dina and Ellie but doesn’t because of Lev. The two of them escape the city and are ultimately saved by Ellie because of their willingness to let tribal lines be washed away.
It’s clear that Naughty Dog wants to strike up a conversation about violence and “us vs. them,” but if it’s juxtaposed with a game mode that’s just a reskinned “Team Deathmatch,” then I think maybe I’m good. It makes me wonder if they know why people liked their game. Sure, the combat is good from a gameplay perspective, but The Last of Us Part II’s unflinching and realistic look at violence doesn’t make me feel “cool” for enacting it.
This sort of critique is not new for Naughty Dog. The term “ludonarrative dissonance” was coined back in 2007 in a blog post by Clint Hocking about the original BioShock. He wrote: “BioShock seems to suffer from a powerful dissonance between what it is about as a game, and what it is about as a story.” After his critique was published, the term then was applied to many other games over the years, including the original Uncharted released later that year.
The conversation surrounding all of the Uncharted games is that we, the player, are supposed to empathize with and root for protagonist Nathan Drake. He’s supposed to be the “good guy” but ends up killing hundreds of “bad guys” to achieve his goals. The message of the game is at odds with the message of the story. Naughty Dog is aware of these ludonarrative dissonance critiques of their games and seems to think they’ve “solved” the issue.
I think that The Last of Us Part II’s story and gameplay do fix this problem to a certain extent, but having the Factions mode return would completely undo that fix. I feel a similar way about Factions as I did about the multiplayer for Spec Ops: The Line. For those that haven’t played it, Spec Ops: The Line is a third-person military shooter akin to the Call of Duty series. However, about halfway through, it takes some twists and turns that, without wishing to spoil anything, takes a tough stance on the idea that war, violence, and the glorification of those two things are terrible.
Similar to The Last of Us Part II, Spec Ops: The Line has some big things to say but totally beefs it because of its basic deathmatch multiplayer modes. The only difference between Naughty Dog and Spec Ops developer YAGER is that YAGER wanted nothing to do with the multiplayer because it went against the game’s themes but was forced to include it by their publisher.
Glorifying the violence and tribalism in The Last of Us Part II makes me feel gross. Putting a bunch of players together on opposite sides of an arena and instructing them to kill anyone who doesn’t look like them makes me feel gross. The Last of Us: Factions makes me feel gross, and frankly, I don’t think it’s the right direction for what might be in store for the future of The Last of Us Part II.